Date and place of birth: 3 March 1966, Croydon, UK.
Nick Triani keeps his distance from the musical mainstream, making sounds on the fringes.
WEAVING THROUGH the various pieces of dismantled stages and equipment, the scene at Suvilahti is one of a great sigh, as the remnants of this year’s Flow Festival are being swept up and packed away for another year. I turn a corner and am almost run over by an overzealous forklift operator. A sea of broken glass lines the asphalt where the champagne tent once stood. Amidst the chaotic buzzing of people and vehicles all around me, music producer and boss of Soliti Records Nick Triani emerges quietly from a doorway to my right and waves me over.
A veteran of the UK indie scene, both on stage and off, the Englishman settled in quickly after moving here in 1998. Having been a member of Supermodel, the lo-fi outfit signed to Colombia Records, he made the decision to move to Finland after the band crumbled in the wake of lineup changes and his girlfriend at the time was accepted into university here. Gaining traction almost immediately, he has gone onto produce more than 50 records and work in the music industry as an A&R man. Radio Helsinki DJ would also be swiftly added to his growing list of achievements.
Now, as boss of his own music label Soliti, Triani’s vision for promoting indie sounds continues to gather momentum, garnering good buzz both locally and abroad. Overseeing a growing portfolio of artists that includes his wife, acclaimed singer-songwriter Astrid Swan, Cats On Fire, Manna, Gim Kordon and many others, his is a success story in an industry relentlessly downsizing in the Digital Age.
Calmly leading me up the stairs to his office, his subdued manner is amiable, yet disinclined to allow any enthusiasm for music break a conversational sweat. Seated at his desk, he takes the occasional sip from a cup of takeaway coffee and proceeds to share the tale of his time in Finland.
Was it your game plan that you would get involved in music as soon as you arrived here?
Not particularly. With Supermodel we played SXSW in Austin in March ’98. I met this guy on the street and he told me he was from Sweden, and to go and check out his band, Mummypowder. We did and he gave me his CD. All the time I thought they were Swedes. So, when I eventually arrived in Finland with my girlfriend, I was unpacking a few records I had brought with me, and I saw there was a Finnish phone number on the CD. I called it and found out that the band was Finnish and they were about to make their debut album, and I pretty much got the production gig in two days.
Talk about landing on your feet…
Yeah, it was really. I had a lot of common interests musically with the band; they were looking for a different sound that was maybe not on offer in Finland at that time. Of course, I had done some production in the UK, so I had some experience. That fell neatly like that. I don’t know if that album did particularly well, but quite quickly I got to know a lot of people in the music scene. Actually, while I was making that first album I met Toni Wirtanen from Apulanta. I did a few records with them; they were really successful and that kind of established me. I’ve been producing ever since, recording and mixing.
Did you have to adjust your producing methods to the Finnish bands?
No. Actually in those days there was more of a budget to make records; there isn’t anymore. When I started you could always have an engineer; nowadays, in the indie sector especially, budgets don’t stretch to having an engineer and a producer. I used to have arguments with some very trained people. Of course, making a record with a band is about what the band actually wants, so if you have a really great band then that relationship works really well.
Was it difficult to establish a rapport with the bands here?
Not at all. I’m pretty easy going. When I work with bands a lot of stuff goes on before I go to the studio; it’s a long process making a record. It is rare that you just go straight to the studio, as there is a lot of rehearsing beforehand. Especially nowadays that the budgets are tight, you have to go to the studio and make sure the band is comfortable and that they can perform. Hopefully, everyone playing knows what they are doing, so they can feel relaxed and perform well. There’s a lot of preproduction involved in the process.
The music industry has endured a big squeeze in recent times, struggling to cling to dwindling profits as the business adjusts to the influence of the Internet. In the midst of this, why start a record company?
Well, I started doing some A&R in Finland around ten years ago. I was involved in this short-lived label, Delphic, that released five or six albums. Not long after that I then got employed by the legendary indie label Johanna Kustannus, and I started doing A&R there. That must have been 2008. At that time the industry was quite healthy to a certain degree. It was very much the conventional way of releasing a record and physical retail being very strong. Johanna used to be Love Records, so it was a very artist-friendly label – something I’ve always liked. The company got sold in 2010/2011 and I lasted six months then got fired. A lot of the bands I worked with got dropped.
When I started Soliti, I guess it was a reaction to what had happened. I just wanted to keep working with bands in an A&R capacity, so I started the record label. I picked up a lot of the bands that had been dropped or I had been negotiating with before the changeover. It was the English-language thing; Johanna’s new strategy was to focus on the Finnish-language market.
How does it work then, when you take a bunch of English-singing bands and start another record company here in a Finnish-dominated market?
When I started the label I wanted to do something different. Having worked for many years in a big indie, it was very established and had a certain way of doing things, some of which I thought were unnecessary. I think it’s always about trying to reach your audience. The way a lot of labels work is that they try and reach everybody at once. I think indies are great at taking leftfield stuff and moving it to the centre; giving it some exposure to the mainstream.
We also wanted to get stuff abroad, and get a lot of attention. Now with the Internet, not only does the exposure come back to Finland and you read about it, but a lot of music fans in Finland read the international press. You are able to build some buzz on a band with a combination of international and Finnish media. If you can do that, the reputation grows everywhere. It’s been nice, as very early on we started getting really good exposure abroad, and that gave the label some kind of credibility. There’s not really any compromise with the artists; people pretty much do what they want – within limits. What we release is what they want to release. That was a real distinction. With the bands that used to be signed to Johanna and the changeover that happened, those artists lost access to the albums they had recorded for the label. Consequently, one of the ideas for Soliti was that artists would own their recordings. We would do master deals; we just license the music from the artist.
Why make that decision, from a business perspective?
Well, I think it’s fair. In 2014 if an artist doesn’t own their music then in my opinion there’s something seriously wrong. It’s happening more and more. A lot of indies abroad operate like this. I think we have created a situation in the music industry now where things are really hard for the artist. I think it’s really okay to try and give something back. Of course, there have been endless debates about streaming and how little artists get. Well, I think we have to be supporting the artists, as they will just stop doing stuff if they are not getting anything for their music, or alternatively being lumbered with some huge debt. That was the initial thinking behind it.
As a business practise, I do think we do attract bands because of this policy. For smaller and new artists it’s hard to get a deal nowadays, so a lot of acts are making their own records, and finding labels like Soliti to release them. Of course, we do all of the manufacturing, the promo, marketing etc., so it’s not like they aren’t getting anything. I think the bands have been happy; I have not had any complaints so far.
Are you satisfied with the way things are going?
Yeah, I think that the profile of the label is getting bigger all the time. I think it’s just what your expectations for a record label to be these days that we need to focus on. I think for an indie label it is about creating some longevity for the artist. I think it’s really important that new bands can keep material coming out, the same for a label as well.
What is the purpose of a label in 2014 – is it just about selling records? I’m not so sure about that. In this day and age it’s about creating an aesthetic, a platform for artists to be discovered, or for the music to get out there and reach an audience through various platforms. People consume music in so many different ways now; it’s not just about a record landing in a shop. Of course, we want people to buy everything – for the artist it is really important, as they find a platform for exposure – without spending thousands of euros doing so. That’s the idea of the label: it’s multifunctional.
How do you see the current state of the music industry: a bunch of difficult challenges or exciting opportunities?
I think both. It is a really difficult challenge. Obviously, money is needed to operate. At the same time it is really exciting as everything is worldwide now. Of course, we want to do well in Finland because it’s where we are based. Most of the bands are here. As a music fan there is so much good music out there and it is so accessible. In regards to the music business, I don’t try and follow that so much. For many years there’s been a massive discussion about what the format is and now it is very much leaning towards streaming services. But physical is still the biggest thing for now. So I would really appreciate it if there would be some innovation there. It really makes no sense to me that you have this huge piece of the pie where everyone is almost taking it for granted, and almost everyone is getting excited about this smaller part of the pie. Of course, it will grow until something else comes along, something else always does come along, some new innovation.
I think the Finnish industry is very particular. There has never been a download culture here. What’s happened is that the Finnish industry has gone from physical straight to streaming. It’s missed the download part, which has been the mainstay of the UK, US and Japanese industries in the last ten years, for example.
What it has meant is that revenues will decrease, as streaming just doesn’t generate as much, especially in a country where you have such a small population. It’s a brave choice by the industry here, but I’m not sure if it is the wisest one. We’ll see what happens. Sadly I think there are not that many people taking risks. We really need the industry to start taking risks and try to rejuvenate the market on all platforms.
We are seeing many bands that cannot get a record contract, or many are heading straight abroad and can’t be bothered with the Finnish music industry. Some of those are breaking through, like Mirel Wagner and Jaakko Eino Kalevi, and are signed to really big, respected indie labels overseas. I don’t think the Finnish industry can afford to let that talent escape. Development of a certain kind of artist has become the preserve of the indie label: you try and develop a band over a number of albums, not just say, ‘here is that one album that didn’t sell’ and then drop the act. At the same time it’s even harder to do that in this day and age for all labels, due to the unpredictability of the music market.
What would cause you to drop a band from Soliti?
If I thought a record was truly awful I’d tell the band that either they have to record another one, or if not I probably wouldn’t release it. I’ve been really fortunate that everything I have put out I have totally believed in 100 per cent. Of course some releases could have gone better as far as the audience that particular release has reached.
There is so much focus on the first week of sales or the first month. I don’t believe in that. One thing we do a lot in the label is that we try to keep all the releases we have valid. It’s not just some back catalogue – we really value it. That’s something the industry needs to look at. Music has become very disposable in a way. The way it’s released and distributed, there’s literally a one-week window for a lot of records and I think we need to step back a bit from that mentality. With those really good releases we need to give them some support for a longer period of time and keep reminding people about them. I think that creates a positive vibe – if you really persevere with the music releases you believe in.
For me there’s not been a better time for young talent in Finland. People are finding a way to get their music out and there are so many young bands. It is a fantastic time. I wish the mainstream would pick up on that now, there is a real wave of this great talent and maybe it’s right under the radar, but if you scratch a bit you’ll find it.
What are you looking for in an artist at Soliti?
They have been saying that labels are dying out – certainly not with the amount of demos I get every week. We get them from all over the world, all types. I think it’s just about loving something. If I really love it, that’s the bottom line. I don’t think that this will sell
‘x’ amount, but if it is a really great record of what we want to do, and it fits into what we are doing as regards to aesthetic and attitude, then I think that’s the main thing. I’ve been offered some things that I probably should have taken on, but I don’t think that really worked with the label vision. So you have to make those choices sometimes. The label is growing all the time so there is no need to do anything desperate, like ‘we need some big hit’.
Do you get a lot of foreigners living here contacting you, being that your artists are predominantly singing in English?
No, not really. I can’t think of any actually.
Is there much of a scene here of expat musicians?
I know a few. I don’t know if there is a scene for that at all. I know there is a couple of guys who put on a club, Skin and Bones. Another American guy puts on things in Semifinal. I know a lot of foreigners here – an American guy Michael played in my old band Treeball – but there’s not any scene I know of. Maybe there is but I’m just not involved in it. [laughs]
Back when you started here, how was the response from Finns in the music industry to you, an English speaker, coming into their world?
Well, that’s been a bit mixed. I’d say 99 per cent of people have been very welcoming and great, but, of course, you get situations where I’ve had some funny comments. I remember a time when I was working with Johanna and I was doing a Love records reissue and someone made a comment that this is the heart of Finnish music and some foreigner shouldn’t be dealing with this stuff. I’ve had these kinds of comments all through my time here.
I think Finland is quite interesting with the race issue. Now even more foreigners are here than ever before. But I think there’s a lot of naivety and ignorance that goes on with people’s attitudes. I think it’s mainly to do with the fact that Finns don’t have so much experience interacting with foreigners. I work with this Swedish artist called Prince Of Assyria, who’s born in Iraq. He looks pretty Muslim shall we say. He played in the north of Finland and said he was getting a lot of aggressive attitudes aimed at him. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that Finns outside of the big cities haven’t had so much experience interacting with foreigners.
I don’t think it’s intentionally racist, I just think it’s naive. Maybe that’s a nice way of looking at it. As far as I’ve been treated, certainly within the industry it has been fine. There has definitely been a certain level of acceptance.
Do you feel you are part of society here?
Yeah, absolutely. I really love it here. I’ve got a couple of kids here; one of them is now 13. Having kids has kept me here. I don’t know if I hadn’t had kids, and hadn’t a relationship, maybe I would have moved away at some point. But I can’t really complain, I really love being in Finland. It’s great. I don’t miss anything about London or the UK – other than friends and family of course. Still, I don’t miss anything culturally. I’m a real culture junkie. It’s not like I’m missing anything. When I moved here I missed seeing really great bands, but that has really changed in the last 10 years. Everyone comes to play here now.
Looking over everything you have achieved related to music, what does music actually mean to you?
Music is just something that I’m really into. I listen to music all day and I am as enthusiastic about music as when I got my first record. I don’t analyse my involvement so much, it’s just something that I do and something that I’m passionate about.
Text James O’Sullivan,
images Tomas Whitehouse.